The New Mexico Environment Department may soon learn that honesty is the best policy.
In October, the department sued Citizen Action, an environmental advocacy organization, to keep the group from getting its hands on a report about possible leaks at Sandia Laboratories’ Mixed Waste Landfill. Earlier this month, the New Mexico Attorney General's Office threw its two cents into the argument, saying the information should be made public.
As if the Environment Department didn't have its hands full already trying to keep its report from hitting the streets, now a state agency is siding with the environmental advocates. That's gotta sting.
"It's unfortunate that the Attorney General's Office is opposing what was our good faith effort to resolve a dispute with this group in the neutral forum of the courts," NMED Secretary Ron Curry said in a statement. "The courts can and should be able to give parties guidance when there is a dispute." The department worked with the Attorney General's Office to provide its interpretation, Curry adds. "We continue to stand by our legal analysis in this case. We believe in our position it is only fair to have an opportunity for a court assessment."
Translation: The Attorney General's Office should mind its own damn business.
Marissa Stone, NMED's communications director, says not releasing the report, completed by the consulting company TechLaw, is department policy. "The report is a draft document that's not releasable under the standards we follow," Stone says. "Only after several revisions are reports made into final documents that become public record."
NMED might want to rethink that policy, because it gives the public the impression the department has something to hide when there may be nothing to be ashamed of. Even if the report doesn't paint a rosy picture of the Sandia Labs' dump, the speculation generated from NMED's guarded secrecy isn't doing the department any favors in terms of public perception.
The Attorney General's decision to back Citizen Action should be applauded. It adds another level of legitimacy to the group's request and puts NMED in a tight spot, which could make the department think twice before it refuses to give out information in the future.
NMED's secrecy lands it in a no-win situation. If the department won't have to release the document until it becomes final, the public version will be taken by many with a grain of salt because of how hesitant the department has been to release the unedited findings. Or NMED will have to turn over the report, admit defeat in court and possibly reveal some information NMED wishes could be kept under wraps.